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October 08, 2019

Revisiting value

Doing the cancan, singing folk songs, dancing to Elvis, and performing theatrical scenes … all in a morning’s work for Elder Clown Bonnie.

When 90-year-old Maggie finished the cancan with Bonnie they were given great applause from the other members of the group.

She was one of 12-older people from RSL LifeCare Narrabeen taking part in an Elder Clown trial, measuring the benefits of play and music and dance presented to dementia residents by a professional clown.

Following her cancan, the smile on Maggie’s face spoke volumes.

It was held at the War Vets’ Therapy Lifestyle Centre, in the room adjacent to where the television documentary Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds was filmed.

I remember once hugging a gentleman who broke down in tears, he told me that it had been ‘so long’ since anyone had hugged him. Some of these older people might go for days without anyone even touching them.

– Elder Clown Bonnie

Bonnie has been an Elder Clown for nearly three years and said the organisation was all about building rapport, making connections and having fun.

“So that people feel valued, heard and respected,” she said. “It’s about seeing them see their value again, recognising they are important.”

On another occasion during this variety show, the oldies became a veritable seated flash mob, singing an old Irish folk song, a cappella.

Bonnie, a former Clown Doctor, believed that music could produce some of the same outcomes as touch.

“I remember once hugging a gentleman who broke down in tears,” she said. “He told me that it had been ‘so long’ since anyone had hugged him. Some of these older people might go for days without anyone even touching them.”

Also during the War Vets session, Bonnie reached into her trolley and produced a hand-held pump to which she attached an empty balloon. She then pumped air inside and made a balloon koala which hugged a balloon tree.

Later on however, she politely declined an invitation to produce a balloon octopus!

She said she wore the clown nose and the same dress to every session. “The connections made are remarkable,” she said. “The red nose is a licence to play.

“Elder Clowns provide empowerment, value and reminiscence.  Just because you’re at the end of your life doesn’t mean these things aren’t important anymore.”

She believed Western society no longer attributed value in the lives of its eldest citizens. “At best we refer to a ‘cute granny’ as opposed to ‘a greatly respected grandmother’,” she said.

Therapy Lifestyle Centre manager Heidi Roland Kenn said the sessions were also very important respite for carers. “The program allows for the partner or relatives to know their loved one is in a stimulating environment,” she said.

“They are not just being parked in a room in front of a TV.”

Mrs Roland Kenn said the program was being overviewed by an occupational therapist.

“There is an assessment scale for alertness and engagement,” she said. “It was measured the week before Bonnie started, and will be repeated when the trial has finished.”

 

Story By Rod Bennett

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